Lawmakers in France are preparing legislation that would force tech companies to unlock their devices or face the imprisonment of their executives.
The measure is included in a crime bill presented to the French parliament by Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas. The legislation was cleared upon first reading in the lower of chamber of parliament by 474 votes to 32.
“The rule aims to force phone makers to give investigators data and it will be up to the manufacturer to use whatever technique is necessary,” said lawmaker Philippe Goujon. “The target is to have them cooperate. The aim is not to break the encryption—the principle is that manufacturers should cooperate.”
The proposed punishment for failure to cooperate with the French state is drastic—a 350,000-euro ($386,000) fine and five years in prison for executives who refuse to cooperate, as Apple CEO Tim Cook did in the United States when he refused to unlock pair of phones allegedly used by the San Bernardino shooters.
In addition the law will impose a fine of 15,000 euros and two years in prison for any person who refuses to share data with the government.
After the proposed legislation clears the lower house it will be reviewed by the Senate and move forward to become law.
In Britain the government is working on similar legislation. A proposed law targets popular chat and message services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and FaceTime, outlaws end-to-end encryption and will force Apple to rewrite its iOS from the ground up to accommodate surveillance by the state. It would also force tech companies to provide backdoors accessible to government.
The French government used the attacks last November in Paris to impose a police state on the country. President François Hollande’s cabinet declared a state of emergency and a decree similar to the USA PATRIOT Act was put together to allow heavily armed police, SWAT teams and military to search private residences. The decree allows the government to preemptively arrest people without probable cause.
The French government moved to expand police powers permanently in January. Legislation sent to the French Supreme Court details plans to “perennially strengthen the tools and resources at the disposal of administrative and judicial authorities, outside the temporary legal framework implemented under the state of emergency,” Le Monde reported.
In January thousands of people marched in opposition to the decrees and demanded an immediate end to the state of emergency.
“The state is allowing itself to take absolutely catastrophic decisions for the life and future of liberty of France,” said Youssef Boussoumah, a member of the Indigenes de la Republique party.